Did This New Hampshire Woman Take Part in the Rwandan Genocide?

***

On the second day of testimony, prosecutors called their first witness from Rwanda. This time, it was a man named Thierry Sebaganwa, who said he had seen Munyenyezi wearing colors of the ruling MRND political party at a rally in a soccer stadium in 1993. The next witness, Bruno Nzeyimana, said that while serving as a soldier, he had passed through a roadblock in front of the Hotel Ihuriro. Nzeyimana said that he did not know Munyenyezi, but that his friend Pascal had greeted a woman at the roadblock who responded to the name Beatrice. That woman had checked his identification card, Nzeyimana said. Consolee Mukeshimana, a woman who claimed to be related to Munyenyezi through marriage, testified that she had been detained at the roadblock and then watched as Minyenyezi checked identification cards and singled out more Tutsis to be sent for execution.

Defense attorneys questioned the witnesses on how U.S. investigators had tracked them down. And hoping to find inconsistencies, attorneys probed the details each witness had given to investigators during meetings in Rwanda.

Each exchange passed through one of four courtroom interpreters, who relayed words spoken in English to Kinyarwanda, and Kinyarwanda to English. Interpreters took turns standing alongside the witness stand, and each had a different manner of working. A tall woman with close-cropped hair smiled broadly at attorneys and witnesses, leaning in to converse further with a witness if confusion arose. A somber man in a gray suit cast a stoic gaze straight ahead, raising a rigid hand in front of his chest if he wanted one party or another to pause or repeat.

Often these exchanges got tangled. Chakravarty spent more than forty minutes questioning Richard Kamanzi, a Butare resident who said he saw Beatrice wearing an MRND shirt before the genocide. At one point, as the prosecutor tried to get Kamanzi to locate his home and a nearby mosque on the satellite photo, Kamanzi said, "I don't understand." McAuliffe intervened. "You've taken eight shots at it," the judge said to Chakravarty. "Let's move on."

On the fifth day, after dismissing the jury, McAuliffe chastised the prosecution for asking witnesses too many questions about Munyenyezi's husband, Shalom Ntahobali. "Shalom is not on trial here," McAuliffe told prosecutors. "You don't seem to recognize that."

A few days earlier, confusion had already reached a gentle crescendo at the close of testimony by Nzeyimana, who said he had passed a woman who answered to the name Beatrice at the roadblock. Nzeyimana, 53, maintained a pensive air no matter the question, often pausing for four or five seconds before affirming something he'd already said. On cross-examination, Ruoff asked whether Nzeyimana had mentioned his friend Pascal in his first meeting with U.S. investigators. On re-direct, Chakravarty asked him to explain when he first mentioned Munyenyezi. The exchange halted along, as Nzeyimana confirmed elements of his earlier accounts. Finally, he spread his hands open before him. He turned his gaze from Chakravarty to the jury, as though to emphasize the point he had made at the outset.

"I didn't know Beatrice," he said. "I didn't know her."

***

Last Friday, a line of visitors crowded the security checkpoint on the first floor of the courthouse. A routine swearing-in of new citizens was about to take place in Courtroom 3, just down the hall from the Munyenyezi retrial.

Inside Courtroom 5, defense attorneys called two Rwandans to testify on Munyenyezi's behalf. Gilbert Hitimana, a Tutsi who was related to Munyenyezi's father-in-law, Maurice Ntahobali, said that the family had given him shelter in the Hotel Ihuriro during the genocide. Munyenyezi, he said, had stayed indoors and in an enclosed yard, caring for her baby and resting. Marie Alice Ahishakiye, who worked as a cook in the hotel, said she had only seen Munyenyezi inside the hotel compound, supervising the kitchen staff and tending her baby.

Prosecutors challenged these witnesses' claims that they had not seen or heard any signs of all the documented atrocities that occurred near the Hotel Ihuriro during that time. And they questioned the witnesses to demonstrate that they did not know what Munyenyezi had been doing doing all of the time.

Ahishakiye was still on the stand when McAuliffe ordered a mid-morning break. In the main hallway outside the courtroom, I met a lawyer who had come to New Hampshire to observe the trial. She was considering writing an article about the case in a law journal.

As we talked, I saw that Munyenyezi was standing only a few feet from us. She had been held without bail for nearly two years in a county jail until last year's mistrial, and had been released to house arrest, pending the retrial verdict. She stood quietly.

The lawyer told me she was curious about the treatment of political "participation." How would McAuliffe write his instructions to the jury? Would they be told that wearing the clothing of a political party was to be considered as political affiliation?

Such factors would influence the jury's application of American law. But before that, the New Englanders would have to weigh the certainty of the Kinyardwanda words of accusation and defense they'd heard about Munyenyezi. Would jurors be able to agree that amid the translation of time and culture in the New Hampshire courtroom some truth had been established beyond a reasonable doubt?

Attorneys are scheduled to make their closing arguments today. Jurors may deliver a verdict as early as tomorrow.

Update: On Thursday, February 21, the jury found Munyenyezi guilty. She was immediately stripped of her U.S. citizenship and taken into custody. Sentencing has been set for June. Her attorneys have said they plan to appeal.

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Tom Haines is a journalist and an assistant professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

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